2017 NFL Offseason: Houston Texans

Houston Texans (Last Year: 9-7)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
OT Breno Giacomini.
Early Draft Picks:
QB Deshaun Watson, LB Zach Cunningham, RB D’Onta Foreman, OT Julie’n Davenport, DT Carlos Watkins, S Treston Decoud. Texans Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Brock Osweiler, RB Jonathan Grimes, G Oday Aboushi, G Tony Bergstrom, DE/DT Antonio Smith, NT Vince Wilfork, DE/OLB John Simon, CB A.J. Bouye, S Quintin Demps.

2017 Houston Texans Offense:
The Texans shouldn’t be blamed for panicking during the 2017 NFL Draft. They thought they would be able to sign Tony Romo earlier in the offseason, but the long-time Cowboy quarterback announced his retirement. The Texans then thought they’d be able to land Patrick Mahomes in the opening round, but the Chiefs moved all the way from No. 27 to 10 to steal him. With no other options, the Texans pulled the trigger, dealing away next year’s precious first-round pick to acquire Deshaun Watson.

Though it was a panic move, trading for Watson could pan out. Many teams around the league tabbed Watson as a second- or third-round pick. One highly ranked personnel man on a team with a franchise quarterback in place told WalterFootball.com that he had major issues with Watson’s inability to make reads and progressions, and he highly questioned Watson’s vision and ball placement. He commended Watson for his leadership ability, but placed a third-round grade on the Clemson product. Quarterbacks with Watson’s type of collegiate leadership have flopped in the NFL – see Vince Young and Tim Tebow – so Watson’s other traits will harm him if he doesn’t improve upon them.

That said, the Texans couldn’t exactly go into the 2017 campaign with Tom Savage as the starting quarterback. Watson at least gives the Texans some hope. Save for a poor first day, Watson was impressive at rookie mini-camps, and it’s likely that he’ll start sooner rather than later. Teammates have also flocked to him because they see him as a true leader, which is rare for a rookie quarterback.

Watson will have a couple of nice weapons at his disposal in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Hopkins took a step backward last season after a dominant 2015 campaign, but is too good not to rebound. The speedy Fuller, meanwhile, needs to learn not to drop so many passes. Tight end, meanwhile, was seen as a need entering the offseason, but the Texans never had a chance to address the position. The mediocre C.J. Fiedorowicz will continue to operate as the starter.

The Texans also have a positive situation in the backfield, as Lamar Miller rushed for 1,073 yards in his first season with the team. However, Bill O’Brien told the media that he put too much on Miller’s plate, which would explain why a third-round pick was used on D’Onta Foreman. The Texas product could spell Miller from time to time, provided he can stay in shape; he reported to rookie minicamp overweight.

While there are certainly some positive aspects to Houston’s offense, not all is well outside of the quarterback situation. The Texans have an enormous hole at right tackle, thanks to Derek Newton’s double patellar tendon tear. Chris Clark is the incumbent starter, but he was unbelievably atrocious last year. Julie’n Davenport was signed as a potential replacement, but the fourth-round rookie is seen as a developmental project.

Speaking of young linemen, Nick Martin will return after missing his entire rookie campaign with an ankle injury. No one has seen Martin play yet, but he was a promising second-round pick last year. He should be able to overtake Greg Mancz as the starting center. If so, he could be the second-best blocker, behind Duane Brown, of course. Brown is one of the premier left tackles in the NFL. Despite his great talent level, however, he couldn’t make up for the poor guard play last year. Xavier Su’a-Filo struggled, and Jeff Allen did as well. Allen at least dealt with some injuries, so perhaps he’ll rebound.

2017 Houston Texans Defense:
It’s astonishing that the Texans owned one of the top defenses in the NFL last year, yet barely had J.J. Watt on the field. Watt played in three games, but was highly ineffective. Watt underwent back surgery, and per his own admission, returned way too early to action. Watt is still a health risk, as back surgery is no laughing matter, but he recently told the media that he feels great, which obviously is great news for the Texans.

Houston will need Watt back at or near full strength because of some key departures they sustained this offseason. Two key ones were in the secondary, as cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Quintin Demps left via free agency. Bouye was the huge one, as he was one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL last year. Bouye was helped by a great Houston pass rush, but there’s still no denying his talent. The Texans, as a result, will need better play out of their former first-round corner selections, Kevin Johnson and Kareem Jackson. Johnson was on the field for just six games in 2016 because of a foot injury, but he performed well when healthy. Jackson was just mediocre, so he’ll need to step up. Johnathan Joseph is still there, but he turned 33 this offseason and could regress as a result.

As for Demps, he had been a journeyman throughout his career before thriving last year. He’ll be missed, as there will be a huge hole next to the solid Andre Hal. Corey Moore, Eddie Pleasant and K.J. Dillon will battle for the right to start next to Hal, but it’s not looking very promising.

Another Texan who departed was John Simon, who was a decent third pass-rusher behind Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. The departure won’t be felt very much unless either of those players goes down with an injury. That would be devastating, as Mercilus and Clowney were the primary reasons why the Texans were so great defensively this past season with Watt being out for 13 games.

Speaking of Watt, he’s the key to Houston’s defense. With Bouye, Demps and Simon all gone, some compensation is needed, and when he’s completely healthy, he’s certainly worth three players. If not, however, the Texans’ stop unit won’t be nearly as potent. They won’t have anyone on the defensive line who can get to the quarterback consistently unless fourth-round rookie Carlos Watkins pans out. The duo of Christian Covington and D.J. Reader can at least stop the run.

A rookie who is expected to contribute soon is second-rounder Zach Cunningham. Brian Cushing has regressed in recent seasons, so Cunningham, viewed by some as a first-round prospect, will be able to take his place next to Benardrick McKinney, a well-rounded linebacker.

2017 Houston Texans Schedule and Intangibles:
The Texans have developed a pretty strong home-field advantage at Reliant Stadium in recent years. They were 31-13 as hosts in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The 2013 season should be discarded because it was an anomaly, as Houston bottomed out.

The Texans were outgained on both kickoff and punt returns for three years in a row prior to 2016. They were better on kickoff returns in 2016, thanks to Tyler Ervin, but they were outgained by a wide margin on punt returns.

Nick Novak proved to be an upgrade over the inconsistent Randy Bullock. He hit 18-of-21 tries in 2015, and he was 35-of-41 this past season. He missed three of his 25 extra points, however.

Shane Lechler was once known as one of the NFL’s best punters, but he was just 26th in net yardage in 2015, but improved to 15th in 2016.

The Texans play a fairly balanced schedule. They have to take on tough non-divisional foes like the Patriots, Seahawks and Steelers, but they also get to beat up on the Browns, 49ers and Rams.

2017 Houston Texans Rookies:
Go here for the Texans Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2017 Houston Texans Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Houston Texans Analysis: There’s a lot of uncertainty with the Texans. Will Deshaun Watson pan out, or will he play like the third-round prospect teams expect him to be? Will J.J. Watt be close to 100 percent, or will his problematic back continue to restrict him? Can Houston find viable replacements for all of their losses this free agency, or will their defense decline? What is certain, however, is that the Texans won’t have a free divisional win anymore. The Titans are a potential Super Bowl contender now, while the Colts are finally run by a competent general manager.

Projection: 8-8 (2nd in AFC South)

2016 Projection: 11-5. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B- Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Texans thought they would obtain Tony Romo. That’s no longer a possibility, so they’ll have to secure a quarterback early in the 2017 NFL Draft because relying on Tom Savage would be disastrous. Otherwise, Houston needs to fill some holes created by players who have departed via free agency. Cornerback, safety and right tackle are the three big holes.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Several teams we had spoken to had third-round grades on Deshaun Watson. One high-ranking personnel man on a team that already has a franchise quarterback told me that he had major issues with Watson’s eyes, inability to go through progressions, and ball placement. However, it was not surprising to see Watson chosen No. 12 overall. In a league absolutely desperate for positive quarterback play, it was only inevitable that a team would select Watson in the top half of the opening round.

The Texans were particularly desperate. They thought they could obtain Patrick Mahomes, but the Chiefs beat them to the punch. Though the Texans surrendered too many resources to acquire Watson – 2018 is looking like a great class – they didn’t really have a choice. They couldn’t go into 2017 with just Tom Savage as the only possible quarterback. That would have been disastrous.

That said, I still gave the Texans a C- for making the move. If the analysis given to us by other teams is any indication, Watson will not succeed. And it’s a shame for the Texans because they had a great class otherwise. Zach Cunningham was a ridiculous steal in the second round. D’Onta Foreman was a solid choice toward the end of Day 2. Julie’n Davenport was another great value in the fourth frame. Carlos Watkins was a great bargain a bit later.

If the trade were thrown out, and the Texans remained at No. 25 and chose a solid prospect there (Cam Robinson, Tre’Davious White, etc.), I’d give them an “A” for sure. However, giving up two first-rounders (this pick and the 2018 selection) for Watson is like a giant, ghastly zit on a beautiful person’s face. However, once again, I understand why the Texans made the move.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

12. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: C- Grade
Yuck. This seems like a major panic move, as the Texans really wanted Pat Mahomes, but couldn’t get him because of the Chiefs. Deshaun Watson was graded as a third-round prospect by some of the smartest front offices in the NFL. They didn’t like his vision or his inability to progress through reads. He then measured in with the worst ball velocity at the combine, and his Wonderlic score was sub par. This is a major reach, and I hate that Houston surrendered its first-round pick in 2018 to get Watson. The 2018 class is going to be great, and now Houston won’t have a pick in the first two rounds next April. That said, this isn’t an “F” or even a “D” because the Texans had no other choice. They couldn’t start Tom Savage.

57. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt: A+ Grade
I have to believe the Texans think they’re living in some parallel universe where every team drafts poorly, because I can’t imagine they ever would’ve thought Zach Cunningham would be available in the second round. There was a chance Cunningham wasn’t even going to be available for Houston in the first frame in an ideal world! Cunningham is a very talented linebacker, and he’ll be able to replace the declining Brian Cushing. What a steal.

89. D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texans: B+ Grade
I have to say that it was a bit awkward to see Brian Cushing make this pick when the Texans selected someone to replace him with their preceding choice. The Texans made another solid decision in the third round, as they wanted a capable backup for Lamar Miller. Foreman is a solid pick, as he easily could’ve gone 20-25 selections earlier than this.

130. Julie’n Davenport, OT, Bucknell: A Grade
I had Julie’n Davenport going to the Texans in the third round several days prior to the NFL Draft, so I definitely like the value they’re getting with him in the fourth round. Davenport is an athletic, lengthy tackle, but lacks strength and happens to be a project. Still, he potentially fills a huge need at right tackle.

142. Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson: A- Grade
The Texans wanted to add an interior pass-rushing specialist, and Carlos Watkins did get to the quarterback on occasion in Clemson with 14 career sacks. Watkins is a solid prospect who could’ve been chosen in the third round without any complaints. He’s not consistent, but as a rotational player, that’s not as big of an issue.

169. Treston Decoud, S, Oregon State: C Grade
Treston Decoud is a big, physical cornerback who will have to move to safety in the pros. That’s fine for the Texans, who needed help at the position. However, I didn’t have Decoud getting drafted because of his extensive concussion history. He’s a huge risk, but could pay off if he stops getting head injuries.

243. Kyle Fuller, C, Baylor: A+ Grade
The Texans have an excellent scouting department, as proven by their tendency to hit late-round picks and UDFA signings with high frequency. Kyle Fuller could be another hit, as I had him projected in the fourth round. Fuller’s tape is very good, and he has great length for an interior lineman.

Season Summary:
The Texans were lucky to reach the playoffs, especially after losing J.J. Watt to a season-ending injury in Week 3. They managed to sneak in and win a game because of Marcus Mariota’s injury, but it’s clear that Houston won’t be making a deep run into the postseason while Brock Osweiler is quarterbacking the team.

Offseason Moves:
  • Texans sign OT Breno Giacomini
  • Texans cut G Tony Bergstrom
  • Texans re-sign TE Ryan Griffin
  • Browns acquire QB Brock Osweiler, 2018 2nd-round pick for cap relief
  • Texans re-sign K Nick Novak
  • Texans re-sign P Shane Lechler

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Brock Osweiler plays well versus the Raiders, but what about against the other 30 teams in the NFL? Osweiler will be around for one more season, but if he doesn’t improve, the Texans will cut ties with him. Houston may consider a signal-caller as early as the first round.

    2. Right Tackle: Derek Newton may never be the same coming off double torn patellar tendons. Houston will be hoping to add a better right tackle in free agency or the draft this offseason.

    3. Cornerback: A.J. Bouye is Houston’s top free agent this offseason. Re-signing him is one of the team’s top priorities. It’s possible that the Texans may have to cut someone like Kareem Jackson to make that happen.

    4. Tight End: The Texans have some nice blocking tight ends, but their offense would improve markedly if they could add a dynamic intermediate threat. Fortunately for them, the 2017 NFL Draft is stacked at the position. Re-signed Ryan Griffin

    5. Inside Linebacker: It would be surprising if the Texans kept Brian Cushing around much longer. They’ll need a new inside linebacker to play alongside Benardrick McKinney once Cushing departs.

    6. Defensive End: J.J. Watt will be returning from injury next year, but I’m sure the Texans will want some insurance just in case Watt can’t fully recover or misses more time.

    7. Guard: Here’s another position the Texans need to address on the offensive line. Xavier Su’a-Filo has never really developed despite being the No. 33 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Jeff Allen, meanwhile, declined following a terrific 2015 campaign in Kansas City. The Texans should consider adding a guard for competition at both spots.

    8. Safety: Quintin Demps is another important free agent the Texans will need to retain. Demps, however, is 32, so he shouldn’t get a big contract despite coming off a great year.

    9. Outside Linebacker: John Simon has been a solid third edge rusher over the past couple of years, but he’s heading for free agency.

    10. Kicker: Nick Novak’s contract is expiring. Re-signed Nick Novak

    11. Punter: Shane Lechler is also an impending free agent. Re-signed Shane Lechler

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Breno Giacomini, OT, Jets. Age: 31. — Signed with Texans

    Houston Texans Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $4.8M
    1. A.J. Bouye, CB, Texans. Age: 26.
      Signed with Jaguars

      A.J. Bouye came out of nowhere to have a Pro Bowl season for the Texans. Bouye was just a reserve/special-teamer prior to 2016, but he inexplicably turned into a shutdown cornerback. I’m hesitant to give him anything more than four stars because he could be a one-year wonder, but Bouye is set to earn a big contract this offseason.

    2. Quintin Demps, S, Texans. Age: 32.
      Signed with Bears (3 years, $13.5 million)

      Quintin Demps has improved steadily over the past couple of years. He was a journeyman for a while, but he found a home in Houston. He’s coming off a great year, but he turns 32 in June, so a decline could be coming soon.

    3. Nick Novak, K, Texans. Age: 36.
      Re-signed with Texans

      It’s unclear why the Chargers were willing to run Nick Novak out of town a couple of years ago. He has done well in Houston; he connected on 35-of-41 tries in 2016.

    4. Shane Lechler, P, Texans. Age: 41.
      Re-signed with Texans

      Shane Lechler used to be a great punter. He turns 41 in August, but he still happens to be average at his position, so he can continue to keep on playing.

    5. John Simon, DE/OLB, Texans. Age: 26.
      Signed with Colts (3 years, $13.5 million)

      John Simon has been a solid third edge rusher for the Texans, registering 8.5 sacks over the past couple of seasons. Unfortunately for Simon, he missed the second half of his 2016 campaign with a chest injury.

    6. Ryan Griffin, TE, Texans. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Texans (3 years, $9 million)
    7. Oday Aboushi, G/OT, Texans. Age: 26. — Signed with Seahawks
    8. Jonathan Grimes, RB, Texans. Age: 27.
    9. Vince Wilfork, NT, Texans. Age: 35.
    10. Antonio Smith, DE/DT, Texans. Age: 35.
    11. Akeem Dent, ILB, Texans. Age: 29.
    12. Tony Bergstrom, G, Texans. Age: 31. — Signed with Cardinals
    13. Don Jones, S, Texans. Age: 27. — Signed with 49ers
    14. David Quessenberry, OT, Texans. Age: 27.


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